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Performers Bear Brunt of Reality TV and Runaway Production Trends, 2003 Casting Data Shows

SAG Roles Drop 1.6 percent; Latino and Asian Male Leads Dive Over 30 percent from previous year

LOS ANGELES (October 6, 2004) – While the overall trend of declining U.S. television and theatrical roles appears to be losing steam, new employment statistics released today by Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strongly indicates that actors are bearing the brunt of today’s trend toward more reality programming and runaway production.

The data, gathered from producers in accordance with SAG’s collective bargaining agreement, indicates a 1.6 percent overall decline in TV and theatrical member roles in 2003 over 2002. This drop is far more modest than in recent years (6.5% percent in 2002 and 9.3 percent in 2001) with much of the loss concentrated in lead roles for Asian and Latino male lead roles in primetime, which declined 35 percent and 31 percent respectively from 2002 to 2003.

“Although we have certainly seen some encouraging signs in this latest data, particularly for Native Americans and African-Americans, for many other performers the news is not as good,” said SAG President Melissa Gilbert. “We are particularly concerned to note the decline in lead roles for Latino and Asian male actors. It’s been clear for some time that reality television and runaway production are having an adverse impact on the number of opportunities available to working actors. Overall, this data ought to be a wake-up call to the industry. There is still significant work left to do to increase the opportunities for many groups.”

The employment data was compiled by producers working under the Guild’s television and theatrical contracts, in which employers commit to realistically portraying “the American scene.” While the data is not comprehensive, it is collected by gender, age group and ethnicity of cast performers for the purpose of spotting trends and opportunities for improvement.

Specifically, the data collected indicates that the percentage of roles awarded to Caucasian performers largely held steady at 73.5 percent from 2002 to 2003, while the percentage of roles that went to performers of color decreased from 24.2 percent to 23.5 percent. However, these overall numbers tell only part of the story:

  • African-American performers secured three percent fewer roles in 2003 compared to 2002. However, their 15.3 percent share of roles exceeds their census reported 12.8 percent representation in the U.S. population. Although African-American actors made steady gains in lead roles, with an increase of 64 male leads and 14 female leads in the 2003 data over 2002, their share of total roles in film decreased 23.09 percent from the previous year. This decrease was driven primarily by a decline in African-American males in lead roles in film that dipped 35.12 percent from the previous year.
  • Latino performers were cast in 10.5 percent less roles in 2003. This 5.4 percent share of all roles is far below the Latino community’s 13.7 percent representation in the U.S. population. The most notable drop was among Latino male leads, which declined 31 percent in 2003, mostly in episodic television. One bright spot was a 2.4% increase in supporting roles for Latinas.
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders represent 3.8 percent of the American population, yet continue to secure only 2.5 percent of all TV/theatrical roles. Male Asian leads cast in episodic television were hardest hit – declining from 104 lead roles in the 2002 data to 61 in 2003.
  • Overall, Native Americans were the only category of minority performers to actually gain ground last year. In the 2003 data, Native-American performers were cast in 128 roles – a 40.7 percent increase over 2002 – with gains in male and female lead and supporting roles.
  • Women also continue to be significantly under-represented on television and in the movies. While the majority of Americans, women were awarded only 38 percent of roles cast in 2003, consistent with past years. One bright spot was the increase of 215 support roles over the previous year. The 2003 data also supports the wide belief that age is a further barrier to opportunities for women actors today. In 2003, women over 40 were cast in only 11% percent of roles, while men over 40 secured 25% percent of roles cast.

“This is compelling evidence that what we see on television is simply not the America we live in today,” Gilbert added. “SAG and its members are deeply committed to reflecting the diversity of our country and its working actors on television and in the movies. We will remain vigilant and active on this issue, working to expand the opportunities available to women and minority performers and making sure those doing the hiring have more exposure to the incredible diversity of talent that clearly exists among the SAG membership today.”

Gilbert added: “I am disappointed that the data provided to us by producers does not include information on performers with disabilities. It is imperative that the industry recognize this important group, and I intend to be relentless in continuing to fight for their cause.”

SAG has been pressing producers to include data on performers with disabilities. This effort recently resulted in the SAG-Producers Industry Cooperative Fund commissioning a study currently being conducted by UCLA on challenges facing performers with disabilities. Other recent Guild efforts to enhance casting diversity have included: holding symposiums seeking realistic solutions for greater diversity in casting, conducting special events for women and senior performers, promoting SAGindie’s low budget diversity casting incentive, and conducting talent showcases and expanding the Diversity, Special Skills and Talent Bank’s free casting service to expose studios and casting directors to diverse pools of talent.

About SAG

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is the nation’s premier labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials and music videos. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, you can visit SAG on-line at